United States

United States

Renewables drive federal proposal

Federal lawmakers are for the first time considering action on how to get transmission wires built where they are needed most for renewable energy. Legislation has been introduced on both the Senate and the House sides of the US Congress for the creation of renewable energy zones across America. The law would nationalise an approach seen in both California and Texas where efforts have moved forward to pre-emptively finance and construct wires in wind rich zones to allow for future development.

The legislative proposal, called the Clean Renewable Energy and Economic Development Act, was first mooted by Senator Harry Reid of Nevada and is expected soon to be buttressed on the House side by Washington state's Congressman Jay Inslee. Reid's legislation directs President George Bush to identify areas of the country, especially rural areas, where renewable energy resources could generate at least 1000 MW of electricity. The federal power marketing administrations, like the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), would have a year to identify the types of high-voltage or interconnection lines needed to access the renewable power in those zones.

If, after two years, no private entities step forward to fund the construction of transmission to the renewable energy zones, then WAPA and the four other federal power administrations (Bonneville, Southeastern, Southwestern, and Tennessee Valley Authority), would each be granted an additional $10 billion in bonding authority to finance those lines. This is particularly important for WAPA, which does not now have sufficient authority to spend cash on its own.

Reid's bill limits the federal financing of transmission lines to those that carry at least 75% renewable electricity and applies the same limitation to any new lines to be built across federal lands. "We don't necessarily support that because we don't know how you go about implementing it," says Rob Gramlich of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Requiring renewable energy to use such a high percentage of the transmission capacity would be difficult to achieve with wind power, which does not generate at full power all the time. The approach in areas of the world with high levels of wind power is to give wind priority on the wires over fossil-fuel generation. A renewable energy limit, however, would benefit geothermal power, abundant in Reid's home state of Nevada. It is less variable and can maintain higher percentages on a system.

Gramlich says the bill may face a tough fight being voted into law this fall. What is important is that a federal bill dealing with transmission is on the Congressional table at the same time as state efforts at providing capacity on the wires for wind move along. "There's just a whole lot of politics around transmission, it's very complicated and there aren't too many people who understand how these provisions work," says Gramlich. "It's just going to take a little bit of time. But we've come a long way. We went from nothing to two bills proposed that are in pretty solid

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